- Children's services work with range of agencies to develop prevention approach.
- Early action services based in local hubs to identify problems before they escalate.
- In Ignite areas, early help activity is up and referrals to social care are down.
The project, funded by £1.53m from the Early Action Neighbourhood Fund over five years, is based on a model that third sector organisations can stimulate change within the public sector. The fund is an initiative between Comic Relief, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Lottery Community Fund, The Legal Education Foundation and Barrow Cadbury Trust.
Now in its fourth year of operating with Coventry children's services, it has been a catalyst for changing how resources are allocated to support families most in need.
Emma Bates, Ignite project manager, says it is a move away from traditional approaches to service delivery where grants are awarded and organisations work alongside each other to deliver outcomes.
Ignite is a partnership between the council and number of voluntary organisations. It is based at one of the city's early help hubs - because this provides the "best chance" of supporting families before problems escalate.
Bates says this particular hub has been co-created with children's services staff to respond to the needs of the local community by delivering a wide range of support services.
"There's a lot of rhetoric about early help and communities doing more for themselves, but what Ignite has been trying to understand is how to give families the right help at the right time in order to head off a crisis," she says.
Bates says Ignite's location within children's services enables a "360, 3D, ethnographic view" of the key issues affecting vulnerable families to be gained.
"That view allows you to see how policies, processes, needs and outcomes fit together so you can build a picture which means you understand the problem and can design a solution that is likely to achieve a change," she says.
The hub model is responsible for delivering support that "really unlocks early help" such as legal advice around benefits and housing issues. To address this, part of the project is based inside the Central England Law Centre which provides legal advice to families.
In partnership with support and advocacy charity Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire and Whitefriars Housing, the project works with those at risk of homelessness or suffering high rent arrears.
"We make sure there's the right support to help because these are the sort of issues that ultimately cripple families and mean that people are less able to look after their children," explains Bates.
Hubs provide a distribution point for food bank vouchers, but Bates says Ignite has developed this further through partnering with Lidl and Greggs to redistribute unsold food.
"They [families] can collect that free food in a dignified way which doesn't rely on a voucher scheme," she says.
"There's always someone available to talk about anything that might be worrying someone - we know that often people who come in for free food are there because something has gone wrong in their situation."
Using the hub as a central point not only to distribute food but to "stimulate" conversations with staff enables a clearer understanding of the issues families are facing, says Bates.
Five local organisations have been partnered to share a pool of local volunteers that aim to improve frontline delivery of advice.
Bates says they also run family activities as well as schemes such as a school uniform exchange to help alleviate financial burdens placed on families.
Data from Coventry children's services indicates rising levels of new early help episodes in Ignite areas whereas other parts of the city are seeing falling numbers. Bates says this could indicate that efforts to increase early help are succeeding.
She says the percentage of cases stepped up from early help to social care has dropped over a four-year period in Ignite areas while rising city wide.
"This would suggest that if you are a child in the Ignite postcode it is less likely that your case will be stepped up to social care."
Independent evaluation comprising interviews with children's services staff has identified a number of successes as a result of Ignite being embedded in a family hub.
These include improved design of early help and social care assessments to ensure critical financial questions are asked.
The project has also supported the creation of a duty system as well as productive relationships with private companies and voluntary organisations such as supermarkets and community centres.